Rowe v. Portsmouth

CourtSupreme Court of New Hampshire
Citation56 N.H. 291
PartiesRowe v. Portsmouth.
Decision Date20 March 1876

56 N.H. 291


Supreme Court of New Hampshire

March 20, 1876

Damage from stoppage of common sewers---Degree of care---Notice.

A city, having power by statute to construct public sewers, and to demand and receive pay from adjoining owners for liberty to enter their private drains into such sewers, is responsible for negligently suffering them to occasion a nuisance to the estates of such adjoining owners, if the nuisance does not result from the original plan of construction, and could be avoided by keeping them in proper condition.

In maintaining such public sewer, a city is bound to use that degree of care and prudence which a discreet and cautious individual would use if the whole loss or risk was to be his alone.

A city will not be liable for injuries caused to individuals, by an obstruction in such public sewer not placed there by its own officials or by authority of the city government, until after actual notice of such obstruction, or until, by reason of the lapse of time, actual notice may be presumed

From ROCKINGHAM Circuit Court

CASE, to recover damages sustained from a flow of water into the cellar of the plaintiff's house from the defendants' common sewer. Plea, the general issue. The case was referred to a referee, under the statute, who reports the following facts as proved: Prior to the month of July, 1872, the defendants for more than twenty years had a common sewer leading from High street down through Hanover street by the plaintiff's dwelling-house, and emptying into the North Mill Pond, and the plaintiff's cellar was drained by a private drain leading into the defendants' common sewer of right. In 1867 a new tile drain was laid by the plaintiff in place of her old one of wood, which was discontinued, and said new tile drain led into the defendants' sewer. In 1867 the defendants built a new common sewer in place of their old one, which was discontinued, of cement stone pipe one foot in diameter, laying the same outside of the old sewer, nearer to the plaintiff's dwelling-house, and, in consequence, cut off all the private drains leading into the old sewer, and connected them with the new sewer, including the plaintiff's drain; that the defendants, in laying said new sewer a short distance below the place where the plaintiff's drain entered it, found a water-pipe, one inch in diameter, running across the proposed course of their sewer at right angles, and they cut their sewer-pipe so as to let it down over said water-pipe, so that said water-pipe passed through the centre of said sewer-pipe. It is provided by ordinance of said city "that the city councils shall have power to construct drains and common sewers through highways, streets," &c., "and may re- [56 N.H. 292]

quire all persons to pay a reasonable sum for the right to open any drain into any public drain or common sewer."

In the month of July, 1872, by reason of a lady's parasol or sunshade floating down said sewer and catching on said water-pipe, said sewer became obstructed and choked up, so that on July 4, after a shower, the water flowed back from said obstruction through the plaintiff's drain into her cellar, causing her damage and annoyance; and so, likewise, at three different times thereafter during the month of July, at the last of which times, by reason of there being a very heavy shower, and by reason of the said defendants' common sewer having become more choked and obstructed at said water-pipe, the plaintiff's cellar was nearly filled with mud and water, her provisions and produce destroyed, and the cellar and house damaged. The plaintiff each time notified the city marshal, who lived in her neighborhood; but it did not appear in evidence whether or not the marshal notified any other city officer until the last time, when he notified the mayor and one of the aldermen, and thereupon the defendants proceeded to examine their said sewer, and found and removed the obstruction aforesaid. Said obstruction would not have happened had said water-pipe not been allowed to run through the defendants' said sewer; but said sewer, as constructed, was sufficient for the purpose off carrying off the water had said obstruction not occurred as above stated. There was no evidence to show in what manner said parasol or sunshade entered said sewer. Upon the foregoing facts the referee found that the defendants were guilty in manner and form as the plaintiff had declared against them, and assessed damages in the sum of $253.80.

Upon the return of said report the plaintiff moved for judgment thereon in her favor for the amount found by the referee, and the court pro forma granted the motion, to which the defendants excepted.

The questions arising on the foregoing statement of facts and ruling of the court were transferred to this court by STANLEY, J.

Frink, for the plaintiff. Hodgdon, for the defendants


The defendants raise three questions upon the report of the referee: (1) That no action will lie against a city for neglect to build or repair a sewer; (2) that if such action will lie, a city is answerable only for neglect to use ordinary vigilance and care to keep its sewers open and free from obstruction; and (3) that the defendants did not receive seasonable notice of the obstruction to prevent the injuries which the plaintiff has received.

By ch. 44, sec. 9, Gen. Stats., it is provided that "city councils shall have power to construct drains and common sewers through highways, streets, or private lands, paying the owners such damages as they shall sustain thereby, said damages to be assessed by the mayor and aldermen in the same manner and with the same right of appeal from their [56 N.H. 293]

decision as in case of the laying out of highways; and may require all persons to pay a reasonable sum for the right to open any drain into any public drain or common sewer." This section is an exact re‰nactment of section 21 of the act to establish the city of Portsmouth, approved July 6, 1849, under the authority of which the defendants must have rebuilt their sewer in Hanover street in the year 1867, the General Statutes not taking effect till January 1, 1868. The statute authorized and empowered the defendants to construct public sewers, but did not impose that duty upon them. It was optional with the defendants whether they would or would not take the benefit thus conferred upon them. This authority the defendants accepted when they accepted their charter in 1848, under the provisions of section 28; and it needs no argument to show that a city which constructs sewers under the authority of a statute, virtually accepts the power therein conferred, and will not be admitted to allege the contrary. This case, therefore, is not to be distinguished from Child v. Boston, 4 Allen 41, upon the question of acceptance by the defendants of the statute conferring the authority to construct sewers. When, then, the defendants made their election by accepting the act of 1849, and by executing the powers therein granted, and also granted by the General Statutes, and received pay from the plaintiff for opening her drain into their public sewer, the question arises whether they are liable to her for injuries sustained by her by reason of their neglect to keep their sewers in proper repair.

Under what circumstances a municipal corporation will be held liable to an individual suffering injuries from the neglect of such corporation to perform a public duty, was very fully discussed by PERLEY, C. J., in Eastman v. Meredith, 36 N.H. 284. In that case it was decided that though a town-house, which was erected by the town, was so defectively constructed that when a town-meeting was held in it the floor broke down and a voter was thereby injured, yet he could not maintain an action against the town to recover damages for the injury. But the learned chief justice remarks,---"Grants are sometimes made to particular towns or cities of special powers not belonging to them under the general law: and there is a class of cases in which towns and cities have been held liable to civil actions for damages caused by neglect to perform public duties growing out of the grant of such special powers,---as the power to bring water by an aqueduct...

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  • Lenzen v. City of New Braunfels
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • April 22, 1896
    ...the subject under consideration, and may be consulted with much profit, as may the following cases and authorities: Rowe v. Portsmouth, 56 N. H. 291; Commissioners v. Duckett, 20 Md. 469; Commissioners v. Gibson, 36 Md. 229; Commissioners v. Baker, 44 Md. 1. The tendency of the decisions is......
  • Hall v. City of Concord
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of New Hampshire
    • May 6, 1902
    ...Mast. & Serv. §§ 457, 469; Busw. Pers. Inj. §§ 56-58; Eastman v. Meredith, 36 N. H. 284, 295, 72 Am. Dec. 302; Rowe v. City of Portsmouth, 56 N. H. 291, 293, 22 Am. Rep. 464; Clark v. City of Manchester, 62 N. H. 577, 579; Rhobidas v. City of Concord, 70 N. H. 90, 111, 114-116, 47 Atl. 82, ......
  • City Of Atlanta v. Trussell, (No. 8675.)
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • December 11, 1917
    ...supra; Mayor, etc., of Savannah v. Cleary, 67 Ga. 153; Barton v. Syracuse, 36 N. Y. 54; Nims v. Troy, 59 N. Y. 500; Rowe v. Portsmouth, 56 N. H. 291, 22 Am. Rep. 464; Smith v. New York, 66 N. Y. 295, 23 Am. Rep. 53; Merrifield v. Worcester, 110 Mass. 216, 14 Am. Rep. 592; Hitchins v. Frostb......
  • City of Atlanta v. Trussell, 8675.
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • December 11, 1917
    ...supra; Mayor, etc., of Savannah v. Cleary, 67 Ga. 153; Barton v. Syracuse, 36 N.Y. 54; Nims v. Troy, 59 N.Y. 500; Rowe v. Portsmouth, 56 N.H. 291, 22 Am.Rep. 464; Smith v. New York, 66 N.Y. 295, 23 Am.Rep. 53; Merrifield v. Worcester, 110 Mass. 216, 14 Am.Rep. 592; Hitchins v. Frostbury, 68......
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